Navigating Special Needs at Live Shows

Attending a live show can be a wonderful and enriching experience for children with special needs including autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, the sensory stimuli, social environment and unfamiliar setting can be overwhelming for some. With this in mind, here’s how to navigate special needs at live shows.

Select your performance

When searching for shows and ‘theatres near me’ you may come across special performances that are aimed at kids with additional needs. If there’s a BSL performance for the hearing impaired, for example, or a performance that tones down the stimuli for neurodivergent children, choose that over a regular performance. 

Pack Fidget Toys and Snacks 

If your child has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or they struggle to sit still and concentrate, choosing a shorter show (for example, one that is under an hour with no interval) may suit their needs best. You can also provide a selection of fidget toys to give them something to focus on and keep their hands busy. If in doubt, you could also bring a selection of snacks that won’t stimulate their activity levels. Everyone loves to munch on something yummy during a live show, so make sure you’re well prepared.

Prepare in Advance

Children with autism and anxiety orders tend not to like surprises or the unknown. So if you’re looking for ‘things to do with kids near me’ and have found a great show - such as The Tiger Who Came to Tea - be sure to prepare in advance. Tell them what the show is about, talk through the storyline and maybe even visit the theatre before the date of the show. Familiarising the child with the surroundings, entrances, exits and facilities will help to reduce anxiety and make it easier for them to enjoy the experience. Also, let them know that they won’t be alone and that you’ll be with them the entire time.

Bring Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Many children with special needs struggle with loud noises. This can lead to a sensory overload and an outburst of frustration. For their comfort, bring noise-cancelling headphones to help reduce the impact of loud sounds that might trigger them. 

Choose the Right Seat

You know what your child likes and doesn’t like, but in a theatre it can be easy to overlook certain triggers. When booking your seats, speak to your child about where they’d like to sit. Maybe they’d prefer an aisle seat to being stuck in the middle of a row. Or perhaps they want to sit at the very back or near an exit. Involving them in their seat choice will help them feel more prepared for the show.

Bring Emotion Cards

Many children work with emotion cards at school or home. These allow them to communicate feelings such as sadness, anger, fear or happiness by showing a card before the situation gets out of hand. Bring these cards with you to the theatre and ask your child to show you one if they feel uncomfortable in any way. You can then arrange to take a break outside or a little walk.

Celebrate Achievements

Going to the theatre is a huge achievement for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). So make sure you give them plenty of praise and tell them how well they’ve done. Hopefully, you’ll be able to keep enjoying great days out long into the future.

If you’re looking for things to do with kids this winter, don’t miss The Tiger Who Came To Tea. Based on the children’s book by Judith Kerr, this production is ideal for kids with additional needs, being aimed at ages three and up and lasting 55 minutes with no interval. Book your tickets today.